The stats say the game was close.
Milan controlled possession, 56 to 44 percent. Milan tallied more total shots, 12 to nine. Juventus took six corners, Milan five. Each time logged four shots on target.
And each team created two golden opportunities.
Milan decided to squander their chances. The first was a cross that Nikola Kalinic couldn’t quite reach — he almost seemed more concerned with Buffon’s safety, which was very nice of him — and the second was the more salient chance before half, when a beautifully guided header instigated chaos in the penalty area, ending with a missed chance and a Daniele Rugani off-the-line clearance, or something like that.
Juventus did not not squander their chances. Gonzalo Higuain had about as much of a chance as you do at those carnival games where you have to throw the little ring onto the bottle top and there’s basically no way you can do it and you waste all your money trying to win a giant stuffed animal, and the Argentine connected not once but twice. The margin of error on both opportunities was ridiculously infinitesimal.
Despite the stats, though, Juventus were the better team. Paulo Dybala scuffed a few quarter-chances the likes of which he normally turns into on-target sallies. There were several movements both on the left and right flanks that, with a bit more skill, concentration, and luck, could’ve ended up in the back of the net.
Max Allegri’s men did all of this in San Siro, against the new-look black and red. That’s a hell of a great three points, if you ask me.
A tantalizing collection of titillating tidbits.
- Don’t tell Ogz, but I thought Kwadwo Asamoah did fine when considering what’s realistic for him to contribute and not contribute. He’s relatively mediocre moving forward, although it was, of course, his feint-and-slide that created the space for the left back to assist Pipita’s second goal. Defensively, he was bent but not broken. It’s a luxury to have him as Alex Sandro’s reserve.
- Stephan Lichtsteiner, on the other hand, has just about outlived his usefulness for Juventus, perhaps with the exception of games against the bottom-dwellers of Serie A. He yells a lot, he can’t cross, he misses marks, he gets muscled off the ball, and I’m pretty sure he swung that left elbow again when moving forward on the right flank so that’s going to come back and haunt us at some point (again).
- Daniele Rugani is still something of a work in progress, but even so he is — for me — miles ahead of Medhi Benatia, and trending the opposite direction of Andrea Barzagli. After being in the dog shed for some time, Rugani has now logged back-to-back-to-back starts, and not because Juventus were playing terrible teams. Okay, it was one terrible team in SPAL and then a really, really scary match against Milan in San Siro. (It’s always scary playing there). Maybe the confidence is back.
- The midfield is healthy! The midfield is healthy! (Everybody knock on wood.) Assuming Juve sticks with the 4-2-3-1, and it sure looks that way, Allegri has got to feel better now about the situation in the middle of the park. Miralem Pjanic is pure class at the moment, Blaise Matuidi has been exactly what we hoped he would be, Rodrigo Bentacur is a revelation, and then you’ve got a returning Claudio Marchisio and a healthy Sami Khedira to boot. I still have a feeling that’s not quite Champions League-winning talent, but it’s enough, like last year, to position this team very well.
- Juan Cuadrado was mostly really good. Good Juan is a good thing for Juve, and things are going to keep getting better on the wings as Douglas Costa and Federico Bernardeschi develop and, one bright shining morning, Marko Pjaca returns.
Onto the awards:
Parco Valentino Award
For an urbane demeanor distributed amongst the squad.
The good news: Giorgio Chiellini is playing like the Zeus of center backs.
The bad news: If Giorgio Chiellini gets hurt, we are probably screwed; also, he is 33 years old, which means the shelf life is limited.
For now, let’s focus on — and bask in — the good news.
Chiellini’s performance in San Siro was one for the ages. That’s not an understatement. He was everywhere and did everything. And his energy and intensity were evident to literally the last moment of the game, as the referee blew the final whistle just as Chiellini was making a run forward and was tripped up. The stats tell one thing — eight clearances, four interceptions — but the most impressive feat of No. 3’s night was his irrevocable erasure of Kalinic. For 98 percent of those 90 minutes — i.e., outside Milan’s two chances — Chiellini was flawless.
Piazza San Carlo Award
For a potentially overlooked yet stellar showing.
Two or three times during the game, it looked like Juve’s No. 10 had forgotten how to shoot. Then, randomly off a corner, he lasered a volley right at Gianluigi Donnarumma, and all was well in the world.
Paulito did everything but score. He spinned, he swerved, he switched, he danced. The boy is a beauty with the ball. He basically assisted Higuain twice, though he’ll only get credit for the first one. When Juve’s two Argentine forwards are playing off one another, it’s one of the most lethal things in Europe. I’m convinced by the time the Champions League knockout rounds approach — let’s just say we get there — that Costa and Bernardeschi see more playing time, and I really think true dynamic wingers on the flanks will unlock the Higuain-Dybala partnership even more.
Giuseppe Garibaldi Award
For the man of the match.
I’ve wondered in the last couple months how Higuain feels about Dybala’s torrid start. There’s no doubt that No. 9 is happy for No. 10, but I’m also pretty convinced the success of the little Argentine has been kindling some positive rage in the big Argentine, because just a couple seasons ago Higuain blasted 36 goals home in Serie A and was considered one of the world’s best strikers.
News flash: He’s still one of the world’s best strikers.
With three goals in his last two matches, and a string of stellar play even when he isn’t scoring, Higuain is — let’s put this to rest — back on track.